|[SPOILERS] Thoughts on Sword Art Online||2 out of 3 users found this review helpful.|
This post is going to contain spoilers, words, bad grammar and foul language.
There are numerous people in the anime community that have tried to paint the image that Sword Art Online is a bad anime. I can tell you that this in fact couldn't be further from the truth. Sword Art is not bad, it's mediocre, which is arguably much worse than being bad. I won't go on a rant about the second half of the show and how it ruined the whole series partially because its been done a thousand times before, but mostly because I don't necessarily think that's even true to begin with. The main problem with SAO is not the second arc, it's something that started way before the series even reached that point. What ultimately got Sword Art Online from a great concept it was in to the mediocrity that it would eventually turned out to be in the end was like so many other anime before it: the characters.
Now I'm not judging people for liking Sword Art Online. If anything I'm jealous that they managed to enjoy something I didn't. If film school though me anything it is that you can't account for taste and you're never wrong for liking the things that you do. It's no set answer for what is good and what is bad and what it ultimately all boils down to is whether or not something managed to speak to you personally and in the end that's all you should really care about. As for me: If you try to make these sort of things for a while you will eventually end up with an opinion what what sort of techniques and styles that are easier to achieve than other. Or if you will. You develop an opinion of what lazy storytelling and film making looks like. Which to me seems to be exactly what Sword Art Online is.
We got Kazuto, a self professed nerd who spends his days in the virtual reality world of SAO, which eventually turns out to be a death game meant to trap everyone who enters it until they can beat all 100 levels of the game. Teaming up and befriending a small guild who all ends up dying the emotionally scared Kazuto swears that he will never join a group again and decides to beat the whole game as a solo player. That's until he meets the breasty kick ass, heroin and part time chef Asusa. Second in command of the biggest, most respected guild in SAO, and someone Kazuto ends up falling deeply in love with. Sounds great so far. Except in reality it kinda isn't. Every character including the protagonist Kazuto is completely bland and without any real personality. A fact that becomes even more apparent once the show gets to what eventually is the focal point of the whole series. The relationship between Kazuto and Asusa.
Even though they have only known each other for about 2 scenes and haven't really been talking to each other that much we are suppose to buy the fact that these two love birds are deeply deeply in love. Of course Kazuto asks Asusa to marry him, which is a bit of a gamble so right after their first kiss and to something too which she probably ought to reply: "Wait a minute? Didn't we have our first kiss about 2 seconds ago? And on our last date the two of us were even too embarrassed to even be able to look at each other half nude and now you want us to get married? Don't you think we should at least spend a little bit of time getting to know eachother and perhaps see if this relationship thing works out first? How old did you say you were? What was your name again?" But luckily she's all down for it, and now 3 days later they they're living happily in a cabin by a lake with their AI daughter. It's amazing the things that can be achieved with the power of love.
Oh Asusa. Remember the good old days when you were second in command of the largest most powerful guild in the world and you were out there kicking ass and taking names and didn't take crap from anyone? Now you're married to a guy you have been knowing for about a week and suddenly you're a housewife who's only job is making food, standing around looking cute and from time to time be caged up by the ocational villain waiting for your man to come and save you before the villain decides to rape you. I'd say: You would give the feminists poster materials for months.
Have you ever noticed how whenever a girl in anime chooses a boy to be with their life is basically over and they're just reduced to being a common housewife incapable of making their own decisions regardless of their previous engagements? Asusa didn't. But maybe in time when looking back on her life she will. And she'll wonder what would have happened if she didn't meet Kazuto and continued to be the strong independent person she used to be.
But then again, perhaps Asusa really lucked out on this one seeing that Kazuto apparently can't come in the proximity of 15 meters of a girl without her falling in love with him. Which is strange because he is basically just a shut-in cardboard cut-out anime hero stereotype with not really much personality to speak of. But the girls don't really have much of a personality either so I guess it works out. Kazuto why do girls keep falling in love with you? What do you have that I don't? Perhaps I'll just have to face the fact that this greased up otaku who can't say anything but clishés and thinks walking around in a black coat looking moody is cool, is just much more of a man than I am.
What really makes a man a man is a question I think about a lot. And sometimes in an attempt to find the answer I will do as my Viking forefathers and take my clothes on and head out to the wilderness in order to find a polar bear to wrestle with. Out there I will prowl the Norwegian tundra, silent, yet deadly, as I make my way across the icy landscape until suddenly! Emerging from the cold morning mist a large white figure, tall as two horses and with the muscles of an ox. I'll lie in hiding as the figure makes its way past me, waiting for the proper moment. And when it finally comes I'll stand up and shout from the top of my lungs "Hey, you! Yes you Bear! Fuck you!" The bear will turn around looking at me, first confused, then annoyed, and shouts back at me "What? Fuck me? No, Fuck you! You humans always coming around here whith your quests of self discovery. Always looking for a fight. I'm just an ordinary bear minding my own business, trying to make a living in this cold hostile world and now I have to put up with this constant harassment on top of it." Feeling a bit guilty over the awkward situation I shout back at him "Oh, sorry. I guess I didn't mean anything by it. It's just my sister Sara who keeps questioning me about why I'm not more of a man and then I though I might go out here to try to find the answer." "Is your sister Sara?" the bear asks surprised. "yeah, do you know her?" "Well I guess wouldn't say I really say I know her. We were in a brief relationship back in high school, but we broke up the same year because she would always force these pseudo philosophical arguments that never really got anywhere and I haven't really talked with her since." "Yeah, she can be like that Sara. Takes some getting used to, but at the bottom she's a really nice girl." Well, nothing to be done then I suppose. Well I better be on my way. Starting my shift down at the old paper clip plant in about 20 minutes and don't want to be late." "Alright, have a good one!" And then the bear wanders off inn to the mist and I stand there looking after him. Feeling the rising sun on my back, reflecting over the events that transpired. Him, a unionized working class polar bear, me a squanty editor for a production company making serialized documentaries. Our lives as different as it comes, separated by a path layed out by nature through thousands of generations, impossible for us to understand each others way of life. And I return home, confident in my new view on the world.
I guess I went on a bit of a tangent there, but the point is that the characters in Sword Art Online are very bland and not very well developed. They don't have many character traits to speak of and often just does whatever the story requires them to do as opposed to doing what their personality would dictate that they'd do. There's a trick you can use to try to decipher how much of a personality a character has in fictional works. Try to describe the character without talking about: what they look like, what their role in the story is, what they do and what happens to them. The more you can say, the better the character. For example Michiko from Michiko & Hatchin is arogant, overly self confident, impulsive, not very bright but has a lot of street smarts and prone to sudden burst of violence if she gets anoyed. But she's a good person at the bottom even though she doesn't want to admit it. I was trying to make a similar list for Kazuto, but I honestly can't really come up with a lot to say about him. I guess he doesn't like being in groups. But even that is questionable seeing how easily he is willing to forfeit that principles given the opportunity. It seems that when they were constructing the story, thinking about all the cool scenes they would have, all the hearthquenching romance that would be inn it, all the cool stuff the characters would do, they failed to ask them self the important question of who these characters were to begin with and why they were doing the things they were doing. Apart from pure physical attraction what is it exactly that Asusa and Kazuto love so much about each other? Why are they willing to potentially forfeit their real lives so they can live in this virtual reality together? And the answer is that they don't really have a reason, because neither of them really have much of a personality in which they could get those reasons from. Of course this isn't just SAO problem. Lots of anime have this problem.
I remember 3 years ago it was things like this more than anything that made me really hesitant of even trying out anime to begin with. And I have to admit, even somewhat skeptical of the people who seemed to enjoy the genre so much. My view on Anime and its fans has changed a great deal since back then, but I'm surprised that even after all this time my views on the subject of character portrayal in anime has changed very little. A lot of anime creators still seems very content at just focusing on the visuals and paying no attention to the story and characters that those visuals are meant to serve. It makes me appreciate it even more when anime like Eden of the East, Wolf Children, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Kokoro Connect and Cowboy Beebop comes around and actually does a decent job at it. My standards in this regard is not very high so it makes even more disappointing when anime don't manage to live up to them. But there are anime out there that show that anime can be more if they just put inn the little bit of exstra effort it takes. Unfortunately Sword Art Online isn't one of them.